National Fisherman

The Rudderpost 

jesJes Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman magazine and


Every year the National Fisherman staff is honored to welcome a new class of Highliner award winners with a tradition that started in 1976.

This year, we celebrate inductees from the West Coast and Alaska — John F. Gruver of United Catcher Boats (Puyallup, Wash.), Kathy Hansen of the Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance (Douglas, Alaska), and Jeremiah O’Brien of the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization (Morro Bay, Calif.).

2015 1119 GruverGruver worked his way up from the deck to the wheelhouse of the Bering Sea pollock trawler F/V Sea Wolf in the 1980s. He stepped away from the wheelhouse in 1999 and took up networking — both figuratively, as the Catcher-Vessel Intercooperative Manager for United Catcher Boats, and literally, as a designer of the game-changing king salmon excluder net for the Bering Sea pollock fleet.



2015 1119 HansenHansen runs the drift gillnetter F/V Ocean Gold out of Juneau, Alaska, with her husband, Ed, and is the executive director and a founder of the Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance. Kathy has worked in many fisheries in Alaska and Washington, and is known for her efforts to see all sides of fisheries issues and find the solution that works best for the most users.




2015 1119 OBrienO’Brien is a displaced New Englander who trolls for West Coast albacore on the 48-foot F/V Aguero out of Morro Bay, Calif., which is his version of retirement after having fished everything from shark to sea bass and even diving for abalone and urchins. He served 10 years as the president of the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization and now sits on the board of directors.




These Highliners uphold a standard of excellence in their advocacy of the fishing industry, and we are proud to recognize their dedication.

Welcome aboard!

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Chix Who Fish started in 2013 as a social media experiment to raise awareness about the lack of foul weather gear designed for women.

2015 1118 SednaIt has grown into a large community of women from multiple backgrounds, including various fisheries and regions, who advocate for women working in the commercial fishing and seafood industries and now includes a public community on Facebook, a blog and a partnership with Grundéns in developing its new line of gear cut for women.

I am proud to be hosting a Pacific Marine Expo panel of some of the founders of this group, as well as two representatives from Grundéns USA, who will be displaying their new foul-weather gear, called Sedna. One lucky audience member will win a set of gear at the close of the panel.

We will discuss the origin and future of the group, as well as its members’ collaboration with Grundéns in developing and testing its new designs. Join us at 3:15, Wednesday, Nov. 18 at the Expo’s main keynote stage in the East Hall (near the beer garden and the Fisherman’s Lounge).

Panelists will be:

2015 1118 GenevieveGenevieve McDonald, founder of Chix Who Fish and captain of the Maine lobster boat Hello Darlin’ II




2015 1118 SalmonSistersHeadshotClaire Neaton, co-founder of Salmon Sisters and Alaska commercial fisherman



2015 1118 NellyHandNelly Hand, co-owner of Drifters Fish, salmon gillnetter out of Cordova, Alaska, on the Pelican





2015 1118 Kate

Kate Consenstein, owner of Rising Tide Communications, a consulting business that specializes in seafood, ocean and lifestyle brand opportunities. Kate grew up crewing for her dad at the family setnet site in Kodiak.





2015 1118 MJHeadshot2Mike Jackson, president of Grundéns USA, former Bering Sea crab fisherman




2015 1118 EricEric Tietje, designer of the Grundéns Sedna line

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For almost half a century, Pacific Marine Expo has been your place to meet. Every year, fishermen, boatbuilders, marine suppliers, harbormasters, surveyors, naval architects, Coast Guardsmen, biologists, association leaders and yes, even politicians convene in Seattle for the work and play that go hand in hand with the Expo and all things maritime.

2015 SDY D1 introYou come with a few lists — what to buy, questions to ask, meetings to attend, people to catch up with (and maybe even a few people you’d rather not bump into) — but you leave with so much more.

That’s because the heart of the Expo is not the space it’s in but the people and ideas that fill the space.

Our opening day on Wednesday, Nov. 18, has lots of treats in store. Our keynote speaker is Keith Colburn, captain of the Bering Sea crab boat Wizard and star of "Deadliest Catch." We'll also get a peek at innovations like the new Sedna line from Grundéns at the Chix Who Fish panel at 3:15 in the keynote area of the East Hall and new techniques for fiberglass sponsoning at 2:15, courtesy of Bruce Bryant of Platypus Marine. That's just the first day, and there's so much more. Visit for details.

Join us at the ZF Marine happy hour Wednesday and Thursday at 4 p.m. and Friday at 2 to toast to the best year yet.

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Last week, Oceana released yet another well-publicized report alleging widespread fish fraud (New Oceana study reveals scary news about America’s favorite fish). This time, the target was wild salmon and the big headlines heralded 48 percent mislabeling.

2015 1103 OceanaMislabelingThe “study” took a total of 466 samples in two separate surveys between 2012 and 2014. That’s an average of 233 samples per survey from grocery stores and restaurants. If they were split evenly between the two markets, then each survey sampled about 100 restaurants and 100 grocery stores. According to the Food Marketing Institute, there were 37,716 supermarkets with more than $2 million in annual sales in 2014, so that’s only the large retailers, which makes Oceana’s sample size 0.2 percent and 0.01 percent of the 1 million restaurants in the country.

Statistically speaking, this is nowhere near an adequate sample size. The reason number crunchers like a representative sample is because without a wide enough range, it’s easy for the samplers to target retailers (intentionally or not) who might be more likely to mislabel. For example, outlets in poorer neighborhoods where consistent staffing might more difficult or in areas where English is not the first language.

Oceana claims that off-season (winter) restaurant salmon samples were mislabeled as much as 48 percent of the time. However, that doesn’t mean 48 percent of the salmon labeled as wild was actually farmed. To get to their 48 percent figure, Oceana included one type of wild salmon labeled as another type of wild salmon. So the error of selling wild silver under the name wild king was lumped in with the substitution of farmed for wild. Because most of the mislabeling happened in the off season, Oceana advises that the best way to improve your chances of being served authentically wild salmon is to eat it in season. But I disagree.

I know other food segments deal with these kinds of reports — how often are Kobe and grass-fed beef replaced with cheaper substitutes? But the biggest hurdle we face in the seafood business is that Americans are already a little intimidated by seafood. There are so many kinds, different cuts, different seasons. How does one choose? And many are intimidated about preparation, as well.

So when big reports come out with words like “scary” in the title (is it really frightening to get farmed salmon vs. wild every once in a while? I’m no big fan of farmed salmon, but I’m not afraid of it), they do little to build already flagging consumer confidence.

I realize Oceana is just doing its duty. As an NGO, they are compelled to make big splashy campaigns to get eyes on paper and raise money so they can keep making big splashy campaigns. But as an advocate for the industry, I can’t ignore a report that does little to further consumer education.

Look at what farm-to-table menus and farmers markets have done for our cultural culinary aptitude. We are regularly eating food that would have been considered bizarre just a few years ago. If kale can be a massive consumer hit, wild salmon should be sold out in every possible application — fresh, frozen, canned and smoked.

To add insult to injury, Oceana published the report during national seafood month. Not exactly a celebratory moment.

One point on which I wholeheartedly agree with Oceana is that the first way to prevent from being duped is to ask questions about what you’re buying. I ask a lot of questions. I feel like it’s my duty to consumers who might not know what questions to ask. If the purveyors know you’re interested in the origins of your seafood, they might be more careful in labeling in the first place.

Read more about Oceana >>

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We had our first snow of the season here in Maine over the weekend. But in Hawaii, some fishermen are preparing for a different kind of sleigh ride.

2015 1020 WarriorsCapturing a slice of the fishing life in Hawaii. Discovery Channel photoThe state’s unique volcanic geography makes for some of the best deep-sea nearshore fishing on the globe. A small group of fishermen are keeping a centuries-old tradition alive fishing for big-eye tuna, mahi-mahi, octopus and many more species with just a sea kayak, a pole and a dream of a big check.

I can’t say I’m surprised that the Discovery Channel is there to capture it all in a new series, “Pacific Warriors,” which premieres this Friday, Oct. 23. The show features several teams of fishermen, including veteran Kimi Werner, who kicks the danger level up to 11 by free-diving up to 150 feet to spear her catch, holding her breath for up to four minutes.

As you may have come to expect from the Discovery Channel, the production value for this show is not lacking. A fish-eye lens captures the isolation of a small kayak on the open ocean. Camera angles abound on every catch, as well as the bloodletting losses and consequential shark swarms.

The show tries to ramp up the excitement by creating a competition between teams. For my taste, there’s no need for another layer of competition in a fishery with monster catches, incredible scenery and minimal gear. The nature of the fishery is a competition between man and beast. That’s enough for me.

Most of the participants have some element of attitude that seems quintessentially Hawaiian. But otherwise, they are infinitely relatable as commercial fishermen.

In the words of Boogie D., the 48-year-old world record holder for the largest barracuda landed in a kayak, “I love the ocean. It’s not all about the money. It’s my soul.”

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Once upon a time, fishermen and environmentalists butted heads, pretty much all the time. Then for the most part, both sides slowly realized they had some things in common. We all want clean water (and plenty of it), preserved fish habitats, better fishing gear, more efficient engines, and the list goes on.

2015 1006 CLFEmails from Conservation Law Foundation leaders were made public last week.We are now in an era in which the environmental movement and the fishing industry often work well together to achieve common goals. But there are some groups who have little interest in collaboration, or indeed even hearing what the other side has to say.

Last week, the fishing industry watchdog Saving Seafood made public what they say are the results of a Freedom of Information Act request to Maine’s governor’s office that showed the New England-based Conservation Law Foundation was working behind the scenes (including attempts to reach out to some Maine state officials) in the hopes of securing an East Coast marine monument designation through the Antiquities Act, which does not require democratic review. The emails indicated that the group hoped President Obama could announce the monument plan at the Our Ocean Conference in Valparaiso, Chile, (taking place this week) and that they hoped to be well under way in the process toward that designation before any potential opposition was aware of it enough “to fight it, to organize against it,” said CLF’s Interim President Peter Shelley, according to Environmental and Energy Publishing.

The email discussion took place in late August, shortly before the story broke in the mainstream press and NOAA agreed to hold a public meeting in response to industry angst over the potential designation. At the meeting, industry representatives made the point that designation of this monument will do nothing that fishery managers aren’t already doing with longstanding closures. But a unilateral, permanent closure of offshore waters has the potential to drive another wedge between environmental groups and the fishing industry. We don’t need more wedges; we need more work together.

In the emails made public, I noticed that the Conservation Law Foundation’s Shelley and Executive Vice President Sean Mahoney publicized fact sheets, a map and a list of supporters for the monument, but explicitly sought to keep economic data out of these communications.

Why did the CLF want to keep economic data separate from their conversations with prospective political supporters? Is it because there’s no economic justification for this monument? Or perhaps it’s because there’s an economic justification to avoid the designation. Shelley responded to some of my questions via email, saying that "there is a great deal of evidence suggesting that permanent protection benefits the local economy."

If that's the case, then I imagine the evidence would be well worth sharing. However, it seems to me that a permanent area closure is at the very least short-sighted, given the dramatic shifts in climate and species we have seen in recent years. The best advantage we have now to effectively manage fisheries and coastal economies is flexibility and the ability to respond quickly to these sudden and sometimes unpredictable changes. Permanent ocean closures seem about as effective as eliminating hurricane forecasts for the Gulf of Mexico simply because they haven't had a big storm there for several years. The weather, like fish populations, doesn't make permanent shifts.

Regardless of the economic or climatic data, the bottom line is that the closure of this area in perpetuity strips us of our ability as citizens to manage the area as a resource in the future.

Americans are sick and tired of petty political bickering. It is time to work together. It is time to leave the extremists on the fringes and make way for the majority of us in the middle to have an intelligent, respectful conversation. As stakeholders, it’s our job to demand that of everyone who steps into the fray, whether they speak for NGOs or for the fishing industry.

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This weekend, I got invited to a public wild fish and fisheries promotion page on Facebook created by the always-pondering and plate-piling Lori French.

2015 0722 WeFishWild#WeFishWild is public so that fishermen and those who sell their own fish can post pictures of their work day and links to places where J.Q. Public can buy the fruits of their labor. If I like a post, then some of my friends on Facebook will see it and learn something new about that fishery and a place to buy the best seafood in the world — wild American.

Please join and share (just make sure you read Auntie Lori’s rules first).

Now if you have time to post your pics to Facebook, you have time to send me your Crew Shots. Please send photos taken this year to, and be sure to include Crew Shots 15 in the subject line.

I will need to know the full names of those pictured (from left to right) the boat, home port, location (if not the home port), fishery and gear type. The more information you include and the larger your image, the better your chances are for getting into the magazine or on the cover!

The deadline for Crew Shots submissions is Oct. 31, 2015. Don't miss it!

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Last week, the fishing industry lost a great advocate in Zeke Grader, 68. I met Zeke at our 2011 Highliner Awards ceremony in Seattle. That year we honored Larry Collins of California, but his Dungeness season kept him working instead of attending the ceremony. Zeke spoke on his behalf and used the opportunity not to get political but to praise Larry’s work off the boat to educate locals about the small-boat fishing fleet. As Zeke’s time came near, Larry reached out to me to return the favor. “We wouldn't have been fishing for the last 20 years without all his selfless work,” Larry said.

2015 0915 GraderZeke Grader, surrounded by friends and family at the June celebration of his life and career. Susan Chambers photoZeke was a one of the few constants of California fisheries. When it came time for him to step down as executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and the Institute for Fisheries Resources, a position he held for 40 years, friends, family and colleagues showed up en masse to honor him.

Zeke was one of the first fishery advocates to reach out to environmentalists in search of common goals. “He comes into a situation looking for what can be done that will benefit all sides,” said Dave Bitts, president of the federation and a 2007 NF Highliner. “He will not ever do a deal that is bad for fish.” Zeke fought for clean water, abundant fisheries and a healthy fishing fleet.

“What I recall most about Zeke was his ability to cut to the chase and fight against all odds,” said Patricia Schifferle, director of Pacific Advocates and an adviser to the federation, “demanding the water flows essential for the health of our salmon and other species essential to our fishing heritage.”

Born William F. Grader in Bellingham, Wash., Zeke was just 3 when his family moved to Fort Bragg, a California fishing and timber town. There, his uncle made fertilizer from fish scraps and his father founded Grader Fish Co., a seafood broker and processor, where Zeke worked unloading at the dock through high school.

He went on to serve in the Marine Corps, graduate from the University of San Francisco’s School of Law, and pass the notoriously challenging California bar in 1975, just before the Magnuson Act would overhaul the landscape of federal fishery management. A group of West Coast fishermen formed the PCFFA in response to the changes Magnuson would bring and named Zeke as their executive director. He essentially made it a lifetime appointment, stepping down in June of this year as his health was flagging.

“His lobbying was largely responsible for the passage of the 1988 Salmon, Steelhead Trout and Anadromous Fisheries Program Act, which called for a conservation plan to double wild salmon numbers,” said Bill Kier, a California fisheries consultant and close friend of Zeke’s. “He then used that legislation as a mandate for reforming the federal Central Valley Project… the Central Valley Improvement Act passed in 1992.”

He also helped modernize the Magnuson Act, successfully litigated to accelerate water quality restoration under the Clean Water Act, and helped protect fishing grounds by advocating for effective oil spill prevention and response policies.

“We have fairly robust fisheries on the West Coast, with mostly owner-operated, family-owned boats,” said Bitts. “This is Zeke’s legacy. That’s how it’s supposed to work, and it’s up to the rest of us to keep it that way.”

We’ll miss you, Zeke, and we’ll carry on in your honor.

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I’ve been hearing great things about Barton Seaver for years, most of which can be summed up with, “He’s got a really interesting perspective on the industry.”

2015 0818 SeaverChef Barton Seaver speaks at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, Maine. Jessica Hathaway photoBut any time I go to hear a chef speak about the fishing and seafood industries, I’m a little wary, as I was last week when I attended an event at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. I presume that chefs know a good deal about seafood itself and some about the fishing industry — primarily through the lens of NGOs. But that’s not what you get with Barton.

Not only is he an engaging and eloquent speaker, it’s very clear that he thinks — a lot — about seafood, where it comes from, what it means to us historically and culturally and what it should mean if we want to keep eating it.

Some of the greatest seafood marketing minds know full well how important it is to have chefs on your side. After all, these are the people who introduce many consumers to new proteins, dishes, sauces, preparations, flavor profiles. These are the people who make the mundane magnificent and the unusual approachable.

What we hope after a consumer tries a new type of fish or preparation is that he or she will work up the courage to try making it at home. Perhaps not with the same mastery as a chef, but buy it, cook it, eat it and come back for more.

And if we look at tilapia’s meteoric rise in this country, we cannot dismiss the notion that Americans can be sold on fish. The hiccup is that while more Americans are eating tilapia — generally farm-raised in Asia — they are also getting to be more choosy about other types of protein.

Tilapia is the equivalent of store-brand family-pack chicken. You’ve seen it, a pile of wan meat squeezed onto a massive, plastic-wrapped styrofoam platter. Cheap meat has a place in the market, sure. But do you want to eat family pack and only family pack forever?

My personal experience is that happy, free-range chicken is just tastier. And I feel the same way about fish. I’ve been beating the drum of “Eat Wild First” for a long time. But what I like about Barton-Think is his ability to take it one step further. Don’t just eat wild, be wild. Try something new. So how do we get tilapia eaters to upgrade?

Seaver says you have to sell the narrative of the food. When he opened his Washington, D.C., restaurant Hook, he had established relationships with 13 commercial fishermen and told them that if they caught it, he would serve it. One of his most popular dishes was built around the bait from an otherwise unsuccessful trip.

Hook offered 78 different species of fish on the menu in just the first year, and it was a roaring success. In that one restaurant, Seaver proved that you don’t have to offer the standard top five fish.

Americans will eat interesting food if you sell it to them. Right now, all those tilapia eaters are primed for an upgrade to what American fishermen have to catch, the same way farmed salmon eaters were primed for the flavor explosion that is wild salmon. It’s up to us to sell it to them.

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A couple of weeks ago, I attended a Northeast Fishery Science Center outreach meeting at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland. The stated agenda was to get feedback from stakeholders about the assessment process for Northeast groundfish.

2015 0806 ObserversDeckhands Mike Ragusa and Joe "Joe Ringo" Parisi on the Gloucester, Mass.-based trawler Lady Jane, which participated in cooperative research in 2005. The Northeast council is still debating whether to accept data from these ongoing collaborative research efforts.We were told in no uncertain terms during that meeting that the current assessment would not allow data gathered via cooperative research because it was considered a new data set. The lone exception, however, would be new data gathered via recreational collaborative research showing survivability rates of rec discards in Gulf of Maine cod because it includes “high-quality information.”

The presumption being, I suppose, that collaborative research conducted by federal researchers working with commercial fishermen is not of high enough quality to be permitted in the assessment of a federally managed fish.

Frankly, something stinks, and it’s not the cod.

As meeting attendee Maggie Raymond, director of the Associated Fisheries of Maine, pointed out, “Anything that could possibly result in a higher quota could not be included” in the stock assessment.

Last week, in yet another blow to the fleet struggling to survive a 75 percent quota cut, NMFS denied the council’s emergency request to suspend the fishermen-funded, fed-required observer program. Why? Perhaps because they have bought into the notion that the only way to properly assess the fish stocks is to count what gets caught.

Anyone who has ever been fishing will tell you that what you catch often has little to do with how many fish are in the water but is often a result of where you’re fishing, how your gear is set, and what the conditions are both above and below the waterline.

This is why fishermen look askance at assessments based on one or two tows on one day, set by researchers who may or may not understand the gear in an attempt to account for 20 species of commercial fish.

This is the kind of “high-quality data set” researchers are using to manage our fisheries.

But let’s assume the observers are not there to contribute to assessment research and only to account for bycatch. If you want to count bycatch, you’d be better off creating incentives for fishermen to land bycatch, count it at the dock and then donate it to food banks and schools (everyone in the community wins here). Then spend some money analyzing where and why it was caught and then adjust gear, fishing zones and fishing times to reduce the amount of bycatch. Or better yet, incentivize fishermen to communicate at sea (which many of them already do in order to avoid catching the choke species that can end your fishing year with one bad set) in order to avoid bycatch.

It seems that at many opportunities, we are throwing practical approaches out the window. And we are hurting much more than just the fishing families as a result. We are strangling shoreside processors, gear suppliers, retail businesses, and yes, the appeal of the New England working waterfront, which many tourists spend thousands of dollars to experience every summer.

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Inside the Industry

NMFS recently released a draft action plan for fish discard and release mortality science, creating a list of actions that they hope can better inform fisheries.

We know that fishermen have to deal with bycatch by discarding or releasing unwanted catch overboard, but there is a data gap regarding how those fish survive.


A new study has identified a set of features common to all ocean ecosystems that provide a visual diagnosis of the health of the underwater environment coastal communities rely on.

Together, the features detail cumulative effects of threats -- such as overfishing, pollution, and invasive species,  allowing responders to act faster to increase ocean resiliency and sustainability.

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